SRAM has effectively dropped a bomb on road bike shifting over the past year by introducing both SRAM Red eTap and 1x drivetrains for the road. Here we’re talking specifically about the simplicity of the new SRAM Force 1 groupset for road, CX and gravel bikes. After riding the full Force 1 drivetrain on a couple of different bikes, I can say that under most riding conditions, you’ll forget all about that pesky front derailleur.

SRAM Force 1 Groupset Features:

  • Force 1 carbon crankset available in all BB flavors
  • A wide range of X-Sync chainrings are available (44T tested)
  • X-Horizon rear derailleur is compatible with all wide-range cassettes (11-36T tested)
  • DoubleTap 1×11 shifting
  • HydroR hydraulic brakes
  • Centerline rotors (160mm for road and 140mm for cyclocross)
One shifter, one shifter only, sir.

One shifter, one shifter only, sir.

Say goodbye to that front derailleur

At the heart of SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain is the X-Sync chainring. This narrow-wide tooth design essentially eliminates dropped chains and says hasta la vista to the front derailleur. In their California test lab, I watched as engineers put their chainrings to the test by inflicting extreme cross-chain beyond what’s physically possible — it just simply doesn’t drop loose. That rock-solid chain/chainring combination in the lab has proven to be equally-capable in the field. But, the full Force 1 kit is much more than awesome chainrings. The whole kit has proven wicked-fun and capable on all flavors of roads.

My first miles were on a mixed road/dirt affair outside of San Luis Obispo, CA aboard the Salsa Warbird. Initially, the missing front shifter on a road bike was a little odd, but as I cycled through the gears, I quickly realized that I had plenty of low range to make it up any climb. And, I had plenty of high range to pedal fast on the flats.

Making the climb up to the top of the Alpine Loop - American Fork Canyon, UT.

Making the climb up to the top of the Alpine Loop – American Fork Canyon, UT.

At home in Utah, the roads get decidedly steeper and the climbs get lengthy, but the low range offered by the 44/36T combo proved sufficient for even the steepest of ascents. In fact, that gear ratio is 2.4 — the same as a 34/28T found on most compact cranksets. While it’s plenty low, on long climbs (where the roads undulate and you’re feathering between gears), the cassette gaps do come into play. Sometimes you can’t quite get that right gear, but all that’s needed is a little faster cadence or that next uptick in the road to get back on track. I noticed this on a 2000+ ft. climb in the Wind River Range, WY and on my usual haunts here in the Wasatch on the Santa Cruz Stigmata.

On the other end of the spectrum — when the tarmac tilts downward in earnest — you’ll top out at about 35 mph. That could be improved with a 46T chainring, but in 11-36T mode (the largest cassette available without an XD Driver), going 46/11 does lose some low-end. In the end, I was fine with lower gears to save my knees and coast on occasion.

In short, with such a wide-range cassette, there’s bound to be some gear jumps. If you know that going into it, you won’t be surprised when it happens. I got used to it and was satisfied sacrificing a little bit of fine-tuned gearing for rock-solid chain confidence on gravel and dirt.

One of the trademark attributes of SRAM’s shift levers is the accurate and speedy shifting. There’s no mistaking when a shift occurs as it features an audible click at the shifter followed by an immediate response by the rear derailleur. Additionally, the large paddle and DoubleTap shifting lends itself well to cold weather riding as it’s easy to manipulate with thick gloves on — something that’s difficult for Shimano’s shift levers.

Cyclocross testing the SRAM Force 1 Drivetrain.

Dropped chain? Not a chance — no matter how rough the course.

Dropped chains? Not a chance.

Amazing. That’s the only way to describe how well the X-Sync chainring and X-Horizon rear derailleur work. The combination of the two keeps the chain taut — even when barreling through a roughshod cyclocross course. Not even so much as a single bit of chainslap can be heard. And, when it comes time to swap out that rear wheel, the cage lock feature makes that process as easy as pie. I shouldn’t sound surprised at all this because I’ve long been sold on SRAM’s 1×11 MTB offerings, but it’s just so awesome to get the same experience on a road bike.

The SRAM Force 1 Crankset features an X-Sync chainring -- 44T tested.

The SRAM Force 1 Crankset features an X-Sync chainring — 44T tested.

Let me break it down for you on a road type level. On the road, you’ll appreciate the simplicity and yes, you may run out of gears on that long descent. But, you’ll have plenty of low-end to climb up anything. On gravel, this drivetrain is an absolute joy with just the right ratios for anything I threw its way. And, on cyclocross courses, I pretty much stayed in the middle gears and not once did I feel over or under-geared.

SRAM Force 1 HydroR rear brake with 160mm Centerline rotor.

SRAM Force 1 HydroR rear brake with 160mm Centerline rotor.

Stopping power and modulation

As far as the brakes go, SRAM recommends 160mm rotors when riding exclusively on the road. They were hard to keep rub-free. Some of that is due to the larger rotors, but I’ve also found the pads to jiggle around a little more on rough roads. Most of the time it goes away after a few touches of the brakes, but it does get a little frustrating to do it several times on a single ride. I’ve not had that same experience on Shimano’s Ultegra units. Could it be the smaller rotors? Might be a factor.

The slight rubbing aside, there’s no beating the ergonomics of the Force 1’s carbon brake levers. The hoods and levers just feel natural in-hand and make long stints in the hoods a delight. Modulation and lever throw follows suit and really feel on par with the competition.

The Good

  • The ergonomics are the hands-down winner
  • Rear wheel changes are a grease-free affair
  • Easily swap chainrings
  • Wide-range gearing
  • Shifting is super responsive
  • Easy to shift with thick, winter gloves on
  • Ultra-quiet — no more cage rub
  • Forget dropped chains
  • Braking has been powerful with excellent modulation

The Bad

  • Can be hard to find the right gear on long climbs
  • Have to go with an XD Driver for the widest range (not all wheels are compatible)
  • Sticky shifter on DoubleTap unless the hood cover is placed just right (probably just need to trim it a little)
  • More rotor rub than comparable Shimano units

The Bottom Line: SRAM Force 1

Ditch that front derailleur, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Well, they were right — going 1x on a road bike is legit and the full SRAM Force 1 grouppo is the gold standard. Choose 1x if you ride all roads and want fuss-free shifting without any concern for dropped chains. The brakes are powerful and offer tons of modulation, but do tend to rub a bit here-and-there.

Buy Now: Visit

The Verdict

9.3 Ditch it Already

That front derailleur that rubs in certain gear combinations and causes dropped chains right when you're stepping on the gas -- yeah, that thing. Ditch it. Go ahead, get rid of it and go with SRAM Force 1. You'll simplify your life, drop some weight and get the confidence of zero dropped chains, ever.

  • Ergonomics 10
  • Shifting Precision 9
  • Brakes 8
  • Versatility 10

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Nice review. It looks like both you bikes had rear through axles but the problem of rotor rub persisted. I have been looking for a new cross bike and have been concerned about extra rub with rear qr. Sounds like maybe rotor rub just comes with the territory regardless?

    • I think the combination of 160mm rotors and tight pad tolerances make a difference. And, for some reason, the spring clips that hold SRAM pads in place tend to allow the pads to wiggle every so slightly. So, after some rough terrain, they may rub temporarily until the next time you tap the brakes.

      I can’t definitively say that it “comes with the territory” because the current BH Quartz Disc that I have in for review has been absolutely flawless in that regard. I’ve had zero disc rubbing issues on that frame. It’s running Ultegra hydros and 140mm rotors with QR’s.

      So… most of the time it’s temporary and clears on brake tap, but I will say that the flat mount standard is much more difficult to center than IS mounts.

      For cyclocross, I’d certainly recommend thru axles and 140mm rotors. That would be your best bet to reduce rotor rub.

      Here’s a summary of my experience with road discs and rotor rub:

      • BMC GF02 Disc (Ultegra mechanical, QR’s, 160mm rotors, IS mounts) – No problems
      • Argon 18 Krypton XRoad (Force 22 HydroR, QR’s, 160mm rotors, IS mounts) – No problems
      • Santa Cruz Stigmata (Force 1 HydroR, thru-axles, 160mm rotors, IS mounts) – Front tended to rub, rear was fine
      • BH Quartz Disc (Ultegra hydro, QR’s, 140mm, IS/Flat mounts) – No problems
      • Scott Solace Premium Disc (Dura-Ace, thru-axles, 160mm rotors, flat mounts) – Front is fine, rear is rubbing
      • Salsa Warbird (Force 1 HydroR, thru-axles, 160mm rotors, IS mounts) – No problems
  2. Came across this article when researching a component update. Great piece. I went to 1×10 Ultegra in early 2015 before doing a full tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway (470 miles & 46,000 feet vertical). Last year went to 1×11 Force 1 replacing worn components and a cracked rim. Current gearing is 38 ring with 11-32 cassette. Am about to up the ratio a bit and lose some weight changing crank to Easton EC90 SL 40 tooth. I have no trouble staying in fast groups because when I spin out the grade is steep enough that I just tuck into slipstream and coast. I take my pulls; just not on steep downhills. As mentioned in this article – never a dropped chain, less weight, easier to clean and maintain, and a simpler riding experience. Very happy with 1x, and Force 1 provides better shifting than Ultegra did for me. Not sure why there aren’t more 1x road rigs. Probably because 2x is all bike shops show people when they say they want a road bike.

    • Thanks for your comments and experience. I had a blast aboard the Force 1 kit for many, many miles. Honestly, I think eTap 1×12 is going to blow people away when it hits the market. That will take 1x for road to a completely different level.

  3. Nah, I’ll stay 2X Di2 on the road, and even for most gravel. Front derailleur never rubs with the Di2 auto trim function, and the gears are much tighter spaced than any 1X set up with comparable gear range on the planet. Never had to adjust the FD a single time in 2 years after initial setup. Never! And the gear overlap is a benefit because it means far fewer jumps in the back after shifting between the front rings to get to your next gear. Also, unlike 1X where the rider spends a load of time running their chain at silly goofy angles on the periphery of the cassette because they only have a single ring up front, 2X allows you to spend way more time in the near center cogs on the rear cassette. Better chain angle, more efficient, and far less wear on both the cassette cogs and front chainrings due to far straighter chain angles being ridden on average in a 2X versus any 1X set up.?

    • For simplicity, 1x is awesome. Chain retention is magical and it runs quiet. But, the wide gear jumps aren’t ideal for extended road riding or long ascents where feathering by a cog or two isn’t possible. Drivetrain friction and wear is a consideration, but isn’t that much of a real-world concern these days if you keep your chain lubed.

      Honestly, the ideal setup is Red eTap AXS 2x with 43/33 chainrings and 10-33t cassette. That has been bonkers for the past year aboard my Open UPPER. Nice, narrow gaps and amazing range. So, yes, I’m a 2x believer as well, but 1x has plenty of advantages if you don’t get stuck on the need for narrow gaps. I just embrace the simplicity and enjoy not having to deal with chain drops, chain slap and a front derailleur at all. For bikes like the Open WI.DE or Allied Able, you just embrace the fun and don’t get bent out of shape if you don’t have the exact ratio you used to have with 2x.

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